Death on our faces

She'd grown up in very traditional Baptist churches, long before most any Baptist church thought about observing the season of Lent. So it was only natural when she saw someone with a smudge of something on their forehead that she took tissue in hand to try to get it off for them.

It wasn't just a dirty spot, of course. They were ashes carefully smudged by some minister somewhere, a reminder front and center of what we usually try to push to the back.

From ashes we come and to ashes we return.

It’s a strange sort of thing if you think about it. People walking around in the midst of the workdays and school days and all the rest with signs of death right there on their foreheads for God and the world to see. 

Once upon a time not so very long ago dying patients were shuffled down to the ends of hallways lest they remind doctors of their failure to cure. In the United States in which I live, we still do a pretty good job of trying to hide death in our culture. When I ask hospital patients if they have talked with their adult children about their end of life wishes, sometimes the response is, “We’ve tried, but they don't want to hear it.” 

From the earth we have come, fashioned from mud and dirt by the Creator, and in some fashion to this mud and dirt we will lay our bodies down when breath is gone. We don't want to hear it.

And yet on Ash Wednesday we walk around with the dirt of death on our faces, and it’s enough to wonder why we do such a thing. If that was all it was, perhaps it would be a macabre sort of ritual.

But there’s more.

Ash Wednesday doesn’t come in isolation, It marks the beginning of Jesus’ final journey to the cross, to his journey into deep suffering and even death. 

But there’s more.

Death isn’t the end of the story. I don't say that as an off ramp for the bypass where we can pretend this suffering stuff isn’t so bad because it’s all good in the end. We walk around with death on our faces as a statement of faith that in our birthing and in our dying and in everything in between and everything beyond, God is with us. God’s love holds us even in and especially in the dark places. 

We walk around with death on our faces because Jesus has walked this suffering, betrayed, humiliated, dying way as well. It is the truth we have to speak, but it is not the last word.

Thanks be to God.


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